Lessons From the Garden

It’s raining. It’s slow and steady. You can barely hear it over the garbage trucks, dishwasher, washing machine, and Netflix.

But it’s finally raining, and it’s reaching deep into the roots and my soul.

I grew up with a mom who loved to garden indoors and out. Her green thumb means a menagerie of indoor plants year-round and all sorts of yumminess outside in the summer and fall. The smell of Lily’s of the Valley take me back to my childhood home. I knew what fresh tomatoes and fiery peppers tasted like, still warm from the summer sun. I learned to harvest seeds from the perilla and marigolds to use for the following spring. My mom taught me to take a grocery store stalk of green onions and stick it into the ground to grow green onions for the rest of the year and to freeze some for the winter months.

Gardening is fun for me until I get into the heat and drought of the summer. I use two rain barrels to keep my water bills at bay, and the barrels have run dry. So have I. I hate paying for water to grow fresh vegetables that taste like vegetables. And for the past two weeks, again, I have dreaded interacting with the outside world because it is so painful, like the scorching hot sun and the nasty mosquitoes and the parched garden with healthy weeds (how is it that the weeds look so green and happy?!).

So today, in the shadow of death #PhilandoCastile #AltonSterling #Dallas #Nice I am grateful for the steady rain that pours life into my garden. The rain isn’t showy like a powerful storm that whips through with noise and lightning. It’s quiet and steady, and because it is so the water won’t wash away the top layer of dried out soil, which can do more damage than good. This rain breaks slowly through the dried out top soil and soaks deep into the roots where the chives, basil, perilla, mint, zucchini, tomatoes and peppers need tending. This rain will mix with the compost I added at planting and throughout the season bringing life from the decomposed remains of meals and snacks from our kitchen.

Lord, thank you for rain that breaks through death into life.

Dear Mrs. Turner, I’d Love to Hear Your Voice

Dear Carleen Turner,

I’ve seen a photo of you walking with your son in his court appearance suit. I know you exist. Every child has a mother and a father, and it appears that you are involved in his life. I can only guess that you love your son just as I love my daughter and two sons. I can only guess that your heart is torn, conflicted, confused, angry, sad, afraid. I’m hoping you are like me – that you can love your child and want to scream at them with a ferocity that scares the shit out of them.

But I’d love to hear you, to read your words. Woman to woman. Mother to mother. Mother of a son to mother of a son.

I’ve read several posts by fathers about what they are telling their sons. That’s great.

But you and I are not fathers. We are mothers. We experience life differently as women, and here in what your husband called “20 minutes of action” is where you and I realize, I hope, that as mothers we also are women at risk of being seen as something, not even someone, to be possessed, penetrated, conquered, and disposed of.

What are you thinking? I want to know because I want to believe that as mothers we also share the ability to love our children, question our parenting, and continue to have a positive impact on our kids even when they make mistakes, even when they commit heinous, criminal acts.

I want to hear your voice because honestly I’m scared. You and I live similar lives in lovely communities that tell our children (and now I see that you have a daughter and two sons as well, at least from the photo I am assuming they are your children) they can become successful in whatever they set their eyes towards. Your son was close to that future, but did you know something was off? My sons are younger than yours but they hear the same messages. I want to hear your voice because maybe you have a word of advice? A warning? A regret?

Your silence is understandable. I’d be scared out of my mind and want to go into hiding, but he’s still your son. And honestly, your husband (I presume you are married) said some crazy stuff. Leave it to me to want you, the mother, wife, and woman, to clean up the mess left by two of the men in your life, but isn’t that what we find ourselves doing? Cleaning up the messes? Explaining the messes? Making the shit storm someone else left into a teachable moment?

Am I falling into gendered stereotypes? Yes. No. I don’t want to diminish the severity of what your son did. He sexually assaulted an unconscious woman. You and I are mothers but before we are mothers we are women. I want to hear your voice because you are walking in this space of tension that I am afraid of but shouldn’t be so naive as to think I am immune because of my zip code.

When horrible, criminal acts are committed against non-white people, we are almost required to forgive. Forgiveness by the survivors are commended. I want to hear from you in hopes you can flip the script and ask for forgiveness, to ask for what neither your son or husband can acknowledge is necessary.

Dear Carleen Turner, I’d love to hear you out before I write you off.

Five Things This Parent Wishes Teachers Knew

Dear Teachers:

1. I actually love school supplies – fun pens, crisp paper, color-coordinated file folders with labels printed out on my label maker. (Bird!) However, I hate buying or trying to find those school supplies on the school-provided list. You know, the composition notebook of which my child will only use 10 pages during the entire school year. The three three-subject notebooks with plastic cover and non-perforated pages of which my child will never use all the pages. Or the specific brand of watercolors that are not found anywhere near this side of Middle Earth.

2. You may think the extra credit for bringing in extra boxes of facial tissue or extra disinfectant wipes is a great way to restock your classroom supply, but I would rather you offer extra credit for actual academic work. Make a request for the supplies or wait for that first wave of strep throat cases and then make the request. Timing is everything.

3. By middle school I would really appreciate not having to buy anymore markers or colored pencils. In fact, teachers who tell my children that their pencil case filled to the seams with a hodgepodge of colored pencils from years past will not do go on my naughty list. The same goes for teachers who tell my children that they need to bring a NEW notebook to replace the 70-page notebook they used last year (and by used I mean the first five pages of the notebook). The same goes for any recycled/pre-used school supplies I send with my kids. They should get bonus points for reusing!

3.5. I have a teacher naughty list. Read on because I have a nice list, too.

4. If my child speaks of you with respect, admiration and teacher-crush tendencies I will send homemade granola or the occasional baked treat because my kids desperately need teachers who “speak” to their minds, hearts, and character.

5. Every year I pray for you because during the week there are many days you see my children longer than I will. Teachers and administrators like Ms. Johnson, Mrs. Jackson, Mrs. Umlauf, Mr. Studt, Mr. Ciskie, Mr. Lyons, and Mr. Benenfeld made an impact on me and my family, shaping me in profound ways. For a kid who was put into ESL in kindergarten, was bullied and teased all through elementary and high school, and couldn’t wait to get the heck out of town and never see some of her classmates ever again, it’s a hoot to be an author, paid public speaker, and minister. I pray for you teachers because any one of you  might be the teacher my children and I will talk about when my children send my grandchildren to school.

Thank you.

 

Biblical Bible Stories, Children’s Songs and Art

Do you remember the Sunday School song? Rise and Shine?

Chorus:

Rise and shine and give God your glory, glory!
Rise and shine and give God your glory, glory!
Rise and shine and (clap once) give God your glory, glory!
(Raise hands to shoulder level and sway back and forth.)
Children of the Lord.

The Lord said to Noah, “There’s gonna be a floody, floody.”
Lord said to Noah, “There’s gonna be a floody, floody.”
“Get those children (clap once) out of the muddy, muddy!”
Children of the Lord.

So Noah, he built him, he built him an arky, arky.
Noah, he built him, he built him an arky, arky.
Made it out of (clap once) hickory barky, barky.
Children of the Lord.

The animals, they came on, they came on by twosies, twosies.
The animals, they came on, they came on by twosies, twosies.
Elephants and (clap once) kangaroosies, roosies.
Children of the Lord.

It rained, and poured, for forty daysies, daysies.
Rained, and poured, for forty daysies, daysies.
Nearly drove those (clap once) animals crazy, crazy.
Children of the Lord.

The sun came out and dried up the landy, landy.
Sun came out and dried up the landy, landy.
Everything was (clap once) fine and dandy, dandy.
Children of the Lord.

Now that is the end, the end of my story, story.
That is the end, the end of my story, story.
Everything is (clap once) hunky dory, dory.
Children of the Lord.

Let me ask you. Is that song biblical? Is it true to the text? Are we corrupting scripture, or worse, corrupting the minds of impressionable children leading them to believe that the ark was made of hickory barky, barky and fail to fully explain that God didn’t really tell Noah to get the children out of the muddy, muddy but only specific children (specifically Noah’s own three sons and  their daughters) to let the rest of the children drowny, drowny? And what about the next chapter in Genesis that talks about the seven pairs of every clean animal? I don’t remember learning about those in Sunday School.

What are we Christians so afraid of? Are we afraid that an artist’s creative take on Noah’s story will prove God does not exist? Are we afraid that God cannot bring good out of what seems to me an odd lot of Australian and British fair-skinned pre-Babel people who make a strong argument for vegetarianism? Don’t we believe that all good, ALL GOOD, comes from God, and that MAYBE conversations about people’s honest doubts and questions about God and faith are good?

I haven’t seen “Son of God” in part because it didn’t capture my imagination, which is precisely what Scripture does to me. But the trailers for Noah captured my imagination and let it run a bit wild until opening night. The movie wasn’t perfect as far as movies go. Hollywood continues to disappoint me in casting all-White casts when there is no reason to do so, especially when covering Biblical territory. However, the movie did address some of the real questions about human nature and the push and pull between good and evil. The movie connected God’s original intent in creating humankind in His image and giving dominion (not the pillaging of) over the earth and the destruction humankind brings upon the earth.

And the movie tackled the crazy notion of God’s regret so deeply troubling Him enough to put the blueprints of a massive escape pod for a select few into the ears of Noah. That right there frightens me and makes me wonder what does that even look like, feel, like, and sound like? What does a man and his family experience when faced with both God’s regret and grace? And the movie let me imagine a little more, ask a few more questions, talk with our sons about God’s judgment and grace.

Honestly, if we Christians were this worried about biblical inerrancy we might want to tackle some of our favorite contemporary praise songs that double as love songs to a personal Jesus. And honestly, some of the most popular “Christian” art – movies, music, kitsch – is, um, bad. How many pastors have quoted secular business books in sermons about leadership? How many Christian Contemporary musicians are packing in the non-Christian crowds? How many praise concerts are churning out believers making recommitments at every stop? Instead of running away from culture, shouldn’t we be shaping it, creating it, leading it?

And just in case you need a little more swaying to consider watching the movie (catch a matinee or wait until it’s in the second-run theaters, but I think it’s worth seeing it on the big screen) take a walk over to Jen Howell’s blog. She’s a writer and producer in the mainstream entertainment industry AND she is a Christian.

Howell takes it from the eye of the artist as prophet, and as one whose writing and speaking voice has more than once been called “prophetic” I do not think of that label lightly. Prophets and prophetic messages were rarely the ones who got the standing O, but in her post she writes:

There is an idea among some Christians, which I am almost certain originates from Exodus 31 and 35, that there’s a link between the calling of an artist and a prophet, and that the artists are the modern day prophets. God has long used the artisans, united with Him through the act of creation, for His purposes. It appears to me that He hasn’t stopped yet. I realize that this idea may seem like over-spiritualizing, so let me unpack some of the thinking on this. The idea is basically that artists (musicians, filmmakers, writers, etc) have the ears of the culture in the way that the Old Testament prophets had the collective ear of their culture back in the day. Both have had unique positioning to inspire heart change through mass communicated messages. In the Exodus 35 passage, God fills the artisans with their gifting to build the temple, so there’s also a correlation between artistic ability and God. In the Exodus passages, the gifts of artistic workmanship are accompanied by wisdom, understanding, and knowledge.

I loved that Rise and Shine song as a kid in Sunday School, but I don’t want to stay that kid forever.

The Vitamin L Diary: Year Four & Seeing the Light

A few years ago I posted about anxiety, depression and being on an anti-depressant. I go in every few months to follow-up with my primary physician. Drugs are not the cure-all, but they can help. I’ve told my doctor I don’t ever want to stop taking my vitamin L, but she reminded me that the end goal isn’t to stay on the drug but to make sure the drug is helpful and necessary.

Any who, I am now four years into this journey. My goal is to “talk” about anxiety and depression to take away some of the stigma, embarrassment and shame. Perhaps someone out there will take one step closer to loving & honoring herself/himself or better understand depression and anxiety. My hope is in Jesus. Treating my anxiety and depression has only deepened my hope.

I love fall, but I don’t love what this season eventually leads to. The vibrant colors against a sunny fall morning give way to shorter days and longer nights. I know that a regular schedule including sleep and exercise are critical to keeping my depression & anxiety managed well.  Actually, everyone should keep a regular schedule of sleep & exercise! But I dread the long nights of winter.

I am also still on Lexapro, one little pill a day. I also have on hand alprazolam, just in case for anxiety and panic attacks – the kind that actually sent me running to my doctor in the first place. I currently am not seeing a therapist, but I still see my PCP regularly to discuss treatment and decide whether or not medication is still helpful and necessary. I’ve had to wrestle with my own conflicted feelings about seeking professional and pharmaceutical help because, let’s face it, mental illness makes people uncomfortable.

By and large, the national conversation shifts over to mental health issues only when there is a mass shooting like we saw in Washington D.C. or someone prominent like Matthew Warren, megachurch pastor Rick Warren’s son, commits suicide. There is empathy for the family and friends when someone takes their own life, and it can be easier to shift the attention on the grieving and trauma of the surviving family and friends. In the case of a mass murderer, mental health becomes one way we can other-ise the person’s sinful actions. Even when we can talk about mental health, we aren’t sure how to treat it. A third of all Americans – and almost half of American evangelical, fundamentalist or born again Christians – believe prayer and Bible study alone can help someone overcome serious mental illness. My experience has been that prayer alone didn’t heal me or take away the stigma of my mental illness once I started talking and blogging about it.

And that doesn’t even get to access to information about or treatment of mental illness. I know I’ve got several privileges in play – access to health care, the finances to pay for things insurance doesn’t cover, the means to get to multiple appointments, etc.

So among other things I am passionate about and committed to writing about every now and then is my mental health journey, now four years in. It means answering my youngest child who is almost 12 and was reading over my shoulder as I wrote the start of this post.  He asked, “But isn’t ok because you have us?” His question broke my heart but it was a great moment to make talking about something he may likely face in the future. I told him that I love him and his siblings deeply and that being their mom brings me great joy. I explained that my depression isn’t the kind of sadness or disappointment I normally experience when we would normally be sad but that my body and my brain aren’t producing the right mix of chemicals to keep my emotions and perceptions of the world around me accurate to what God created our bodies to do. And then I hugged him, kissed him, and made sure he was OK.

That is what the journey can look like.

For the past two years I’ve thought about buying myself a little light box to see if light therapy might help me during the weeks indoors. I don’t have full-on Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), but winter doesn’t help my depression. I’m not an outdoorsy person. Being in my garden, taking a nice walk or a short run is perfect. Shoveling snow or building igloos is less perfect and makes me cold and crabby.

We were at the store a few days ago, and I finally bit. It was one of three impulse purchases. (The other two? A pair of wool base layer pants/leggings to keep warm and a 12-pound pork shoulder to divide and throw into a crockpot.) I figured it was worth a try – the light box, I mean. It’s worth a try because there is a little part of me that is scared to go into the winter.

Can anyone relate to the joy of fall and the dread of winter? Has anyone used a light therapy box to help with the winter blues? Yay or nay?

A Good Watering v. a Good Rain

It has been raining since 11 a.m. There are only a few days of summer vacation left for the kids, but I couldn’t be happier we are “stuck” indoors because of the storm clouds.

I’ve been watering my vegetable garden fairly faithfully through the summer with whatever rainwater my two barrels have collected through this dry summer. And even though it’s only required three desperation spigot waterings, even rain water from the barrel wasn’t enough. What I have learned in my amateur gardening career is that what my tomatoes really needed wasn’t  just water.

It needed the rain.

It needed the good soak deep into the roots with several flashes of lightning to ionize the air and help my zucchini freak out like they are on growth hormones kind of rain. The steady rain that makes you relax at first and then go a little crazy after a few hours of pitter patting on the windows with the flashes of lightning that make everything greener than pounds of  chemical fertilizers. The kind of good rain real farmers pray for because their lives depend on it. The kind of good rain amateur gardeners like me pray for because we refuse to buy faux tomatoes during the dead of winter because the taste of a homegrown tomato lingers somewhere in our memories.

Because I can water my garden and give it what it needs to survive. But in a lot of ways I’ve learned I’m a lot like a tomato.  Only God can give my garden and me what we need to thrive when the ground or our souls are parched.

Asian American Women: Your Experiences Matter

Asian American women, ages 18 and older, your experiences matter. Your stories matter.

I came across this in my reader and wanted to spread the word. I don’t know Pauline Chan but the topic of her study (the connection between social experiences and well-being) interests me, and it may interest you.

My name is Pauline Chan, a graduate student in the Counseling Psychology doctoral program at Boston College. I am a second generation Chinese American and am working on my dissertation under the direction of Dr. Belle Liang. The study focuses on the social experiences of Asian American women. The study has been approved by the Boston College Office for Research Protections Institutional Review Board (Protocol #12.172.01A).

I am writing to ask Asian American women to participate in my online dissertation research survey and to offer an opportunity to be entered in a random drawing for an Amazon.com gift certificate for participation in the survey (5 $20 gift certificates and 2 $50 gift certificates available).

To participate in the study, participants must:

  • Be 18 years or older, and
  • Self-identify as a woman who is Asian American or a member of an Asian American subgroup

In this survey participants will be asked questions about social experiences in different contexts, social attitudes, culture and well-being. Click here for the survey. The survey will take approximately 35-45 minutes to complete.

In exchange for their time, participants will be given an opportunity to enter a random drawing for an Amazon.com gift certificate when they have completed the survey. Participants who complete the survey will also be offered access to the results of the study once it is completed.

The survey responses are completely anonymous. Any name or email information given will not be linked in any way to the responses and will only be used for the purposes of distributing the gift certificates. Any individual demographic information will also remain confidential and will not be linked to any names or email addresses. Participation is completely voluntary and participants may withdraw from the study at any time.

As there are limited studies about the Asian American experience, all participant responses will be helpful in contributing to our knowledge about Asian Americans. It is my hope that the results of the study will provide insights that will help to improve the life experiences of Asian American women.

If you have any questions, please contact me at chanpa@bc.edu or 617-966-4001. You can also reach my dissertation advisor, Belle Liang, at liangbe@bc.edu or 617-552-4079. Thank you in advance for your help and your time.

Keep It Simple, Stupid: Going Green (2)

Eating out is a luxury. I’m not sure if my internal compass will sway so far as to keep me from dining out because of the carbon footprint my favorite eateries create or the non-sustainable foods used at said eateries. But having two out of three kids easily eat off the adult menu does make it easier to avoid eating out. 😉

That being said, I do some crazy things when we do eat out. I bring home as much of the recyclable trash as I can. We ask for glass instead of the kids’ plastic cups, but when we forget to make the request the cups and lids all come home to be used or recycled.

And the crayons, kids’ paper menus and rubber bands that wrap the crayons to the cute menu come home to be re-used or recycled.

I have a friend who has gotten in the habit of taking plastic containers to restaurants so that her family’s leftovers don’t go into a non-recyclable carry-out container. I’m not there yet.

Do any of you have any other tips for going green when eating out?

Earth Day 2010: Does Going Green Matter?

It has mattered for my soul. Through the years I’ve slowly, very slowly, been urged, nudged and sometimes forced to consider how my many choices make an impact in the world, the community, my family, my soul.

Lights off. Buying less. Set the thermostat. Some of it is habit. Dad always, always reminded us to turn the lights off and the water off and the a/c off and the heat off when possible. You’re not in the room. It doesn’t need a light. You’re brushing your teeth not the sink? Turn off the water. How hot is hot enough to run the a/c? It’s cold? Put on a sweater and a pair of socks. If you don’t need it, don’t buy it or use it.

It was a good foundation to think about all the new things to think about. Lightbulbs. Recycling. Reusable shopping bags. Rain barrels. Compost bins.

It has made me consider how I am connected to the earth in a physical and spiritual way. I am not a formless soul floating and flitting about. I am embodied, living and breathing in contact with and in relationship with the earth. I do not believe the earth has a soul in the way you and I have a soul, but I believe that the earth and I am formed and created by the same God. We are connected by our Creator, and the whole creation does cry out. Out my window I can see some of the earth’s cries in shades of green, brown, white, yellow, pink, red, blue, and purple.

It matters because every week my church family and I pray,

“Our Father who art in heaven

Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come.

Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…”

May my actions be not in response to cultural and social trends but to my God. Amen.


Keep It Simple, Stupid: Going Green

Over the years my understanding of the creation account has changed. I would picture Barbie and Ken doubling as Eve and Adam, and, maybe it had something to do with a series of Bible stories on tape that my parents bought for us, I always heard God’s voice as Burl Ives. (Imagine my shock when I watched “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” for the first time. God was also Sam the Snowman.)

Some Sunday School teachers would emphasize the number of days while others would focus on things like Adam being created first. My mind would wander off and imagine dressing my Barbie and Ken dolls in fig leaves or animal skin.

Once in a blue moon a teacher would remind us that having babies is God-ordained by quoting Genesis 1:28:

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Fruitful? Increase? Fill? (Insert very optional abstinence lesson here, which didn’t matter since none of our parents were ever going to talk about sex. I don’t even know the Korean word for sex, now that I think about it.) Check.

Subdue? Rule? Doesn’t that mean we can do whatever we want ‘cuz God left us in charge?

No. Subdue and rule doesn’t give humankind carte blanche over the earth. Left to our own devices we have some issues to work out. I’ve grown to understand that God’s mandate to us is not to rape and pillage the earth but instead to care and create.

Nancy Pearcey in her book Total Truth writes:

In Genesis, God gives what we might call the first job description: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” The first phrase, “be fruitful and multiply” means to develop the social world: build families, churches, schools, cities, governments, laws. The second phrase, “subdue the earth,” means to harness the natural world: plant crops, build bridges, design computers, compose music. This passage is sometimes called the Cultural Mandate because it tells us that our original purpose was to create cultures, build civilizations-nothing less.

I continue wrestle with this interpretation as much as I am grateful for it. It reminds me that I can stop having babies (thank you, Jesus!) and still participate in being fruitful and multiplying by helping develop the social world. It also makes me think about the natural world. As a Christian I can often be guilty of living in the not-yet – looking heavenward so much so that I lose sight of the life here on this earth God has given me.

So over the years my family and I have talked about what it means to participate in harnessing the natural world, so to speak. What does it mean for our family and the impact it has on the world/community/neighborhood around us? How can we make what can become so complex and beyond us (like building bridges) into something simple?

Well, we’ve tried a few simple things can slowly change the way we interact with the natural world to see how that changes us and our relationship with God and others.

We garden. It started out with some potted plants and then a raised bed with patio plants and then a smaller and then larger chunk of the grass that we hate to fertilize, water, mow and rake.

We recycle like crazy. Our village makes it easy with curbside collection in a separate rolling cart. We usually fill the recycling bin and our garbage bin feels left out.

We compost. Again, it’s easy for us. We have a very nice yard and some bushes that hide the ugly compost bin. The kids quickly caught on, and it’s fun throwing in dryer lint with the banana peels. No critter problems or strange smell. It’s a little bit of a pain in the dead of winter since that means sub-zero temps and snow/ice to trek through. A couple of times the lid was frozen shut.

We bought rain barrels. Again, this has been easy for us. We could afford to buy the barrels through the university extension office, and we have a gutters we can cut (well, Peter cut them) because we own our home. We have two barrels, not homes. I would get another one if I could figure out how to replace the chain link fence with a nice hedge of bushes for free.

We use a random unscientific combination of Craigslist, Freecycle, Goodwill and garage sales with the usual stores. You cannot believe how thrilled I was last summer when Elias came along with me to a garage sale and snagged a box full of legos and a box of Bionicles for a mere $10. Never mind that I need more legos like I need a hole in my head. He understood the art and skill of second-hand shopping!

Nothing new, complex or completely odd in that short but simple list. But isn’t that what makes it become easier? One step at a time? What are some of things that you have tried/are trying to harness the natural world and why are you doing those things?